Is atheism a religion?
I’ve recently been having a debate on my Facebook page with a relative (and friend) about the state funding of faith schools in the UK. In a nutshell I’m against it and she’s for it….I’m not going to run the debate again here, if you’re interested seek me out on Facebook. In this to-and-fro one comment that jumped out at me was along the lines that atheism is in essence no different from religion in that it is a belief system. I thought this was a really interesting comment and wanted to explore it a bit. I have some thoughts and something to say about it in the context of creative writing so I thought I’d share them with you….here goes.
Atheism is a little like religion
OK so how is atheism ‘like’ religion (sorry to those of you of faith to lump you all together for now). Well, adherents to both can be morally self-rigtheous, painfully evangelical and even dangerously fanatical. But they can each be kind, considerate, compassionate and morally strong. So plenty of ways that we can put them together then.
But there is a difference
…and its a big one and the clue is in the word ‘faith’.
People ‘of faith’ are just that. They embrace a world view in which evidence is not necessary, in fact its absence is considered a virtue. One accepts God or Gods as a matter of faith through revelation or testimony of revelation. No evidence is needed. (I don’t make a judgement about this here, just state it as fact).
The atheist on the other hand says ‘because there is no evidence of soul or god or heaven or of hell, I cannot believe.’ Their (my) world view is that evidence (or the lack of it) is important. (Again I do not say here this is ‘correct’ and the faith based view ‘incorrect’, I only state the difference).
But that’s not the whole story
…its easy to allow the previous two points to fuel a never ending debate as to whose ‘thing’ is biggest and best. This is all good fun but never gets us anywhere. Neither advocate will concede, debates along these lines can only entertain or enrage us.
I’m a true-believer in something a little more pragmatic, and that is we all have much more in common than sometimes we are able to spot. The religious-soul and the atheist are walking the same road, we have each been faced with the same choice. But I don’t think that choice is whether or not to accept God or Gods. It is the choice of how we see the world. I see ‘objective’ truth (that is truth based on evidence) as more significant than faith-based ‘subjective’ truth. I know that my decision is… I was going to say arbitrary, but that’s not quite right….more that it was my decision to make. I also know that I cannot assume that I am correct when my fellow creature can make more sense of the world by giving greater emphasis to a subjective truth. The choice we all make (or should be allowed to make) is whether or not to give more credence to objective or to subjective truths. Again….I do not say here which is ‘correct’, I only make the point and say that I have made my choice.
So what’s this got to do with writing?
Yeah…good question. Have you just had your time wasted by some idiot when you should have been working on that plot line….hope not (though its possible as I am an idiot).
If you get into creative writing in any serious way, then at some point you need to get other people to read and comment on your material. Writing isn’t complete without a reader being in the loop somewhere. The feedback that you get is either ‘objective’ (“you’ve spelt that ward wrong”) or ‘subjective’ (“I don’t like this characterisation because….”). As a writer, you have to develop the ability to spot the difference between these two ‘truths’. If I’ve misspelt a word (objective truth) there is no debate, I need to correct it; if someone doesn’t like an aspect of my storytelling (subjective truth) I can decide to do something about it or leave it be. Pretty soon you learn not to get into heated debates with people about either kind of truth. If it’s objective you check the evidence (e.g. a dictionary), if its subjective you think about what they’re saying and decide if you want to go along with it or not.
My point (finally the point, wipes sweat from brow), is that as you develop this skill (to spot the difference) as a writer, you apply it in the ‘unwritten’ world (what normals call the real world). I choose atheism, you choose faith – which of us is correct? Atheism makes more sense to me, religion to you. These two world-views are not the same, atheism in not (I say) a kind of religion because it differs from all religions in its need for objective evidence …. but in the fundamental and important respect that an individual will choose one over the other, they are just the same. We have each made a subjective choice. It is my belief that if we were all encouraged to indulge in creative writing, the world would be a better place because we would understand the subjective nature of our world views.
But then….I just write crappy sci-fi stories….so what would I know right.
Until next time….remember…you have the right to write!